A La Russe
A Pacific Grove ballet school battles financial problems, rumors and a troubled past to bring Russian dance technique to the Peninsula.
Thursday, July 30, 1998
The International Ballet Academy Monterey Bay opened with great fanfare in Pacific Grove in June 1997. Headed by Russian immigrant Alexei Badrak, formerly with the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, the new dance school aimed high, offering a full schedule of classes in ballet, character, ethnic, modern, Russian modern, contemporary, jazz, tap, tango, Latin and other dance forms, along with voice training and theater arts, for all levels of students from beginner through professional, ages three to adult.
When Badrak''s partner, Ronna Roberts, broke her leg on opening day, it might have been an omen. The school now owes several months back rent, which they have to pay on court order, and Badrak and Roberts have been fighting off rumors that they''re not who they say they are, rumors Roberts says were started by jealous competitors.
Roberts and Badrak are not shy about touting their school''s merits. Their promotional brochures say the school is one of the only places in the U.S. offering the "Vaganova methodology," a dance technique created by Agrippina Vaganova in Russia in the early part of the century, and still used at Russia''s Bolshoi and Kirov dance schools. Roberts and Badrak regularly bring in guest artists and teachers, mostly from Russia, to teach master classes. They call their dance school "one of the elite training institutions in the world," offering students "the highest standards and absolutely the best training in the world."
That''s a pretty big claim. It''s a claim Badrak and Roberts believe with all their heart, a heart they clearly pour into their dance school. But it''s also a claim that annoys--even worries--others in the dance community, who feel Badrak and Roberts are building up their school by claiming other local schools don''t measure up.
As soon as the doors opened, rumors began flying: Badrak wasn''t who he said he was; IBA was charging too much money; IBA was teaching a methodology no one had heard of. No one would go on the record with these complaints because no one had any proof. But the bad feelings persisted.
The truth--according to the 1997 Russian Ballet Encyclopedia--is that Badrak was assistant artistic director of the Bolshoi Theater, beginning in 1987. (Coincidentally, Badrak''s bio appears one page after the entry on the Vaganova Methodology, a technique that has guided generations of Soviet dancers.) "We are who we say we are, and we can do what we say we can do," says Roberts.
So why the hostility from so many local sources? Professional jealousy, Roberts believes, something endemic to the arts world. "It''s a very sad thing," she says. "People are threatened by our presence on the Peninsula, instead of seeing this as an incredible opportunity to raise the level of dance training here."
Local teachers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, say the hostility stems from the high-handed way Badrak and Roberts came into town. "Mr. Badrak made it seem as if everyone else in the local dance community was teaching dance wrong," says one teacher. "That''s not the way to come into a new community."
In fact, Roberts makes no bones about it. "We''re working at a different level and a different caliber than they are," she insists. But that means, she says, IBA is not competition. "We''re not trying to nurture away their students. We prefer to bring in our own, national and international students. None of [the other local dance teachers] can say they''re in that arena. And that''s where we intend to be."
But money problems may keep IBA from reaching those lofty goals. In June, Roberts admitted IBA was finding it hard to pay the $3,000-plus monthly rent on their studio space, and in July, their landlord, Gary Walter, sued IBA in Monterey Superior Court. On July 15, Walker was awarded $16,623.42 for unpaid rent and utilities, late charges and deferred rent.
As of press time, Roberts says the academy is hoping to "work things out" so they can stay in their present location.
It''s not the first time Badrak and Roberts have faced a court battle. In 1994, according to court records, Badrak unsucessfully sued his former employer Dorothy Perceval, a dance teacher in Stockton and his immigration sponsor, for $5,000 in a breach-of- contract case. Since then, he and Roberts--a former student of Perceval''s--have taught at various dance schools in Stockton and the Bay Area, then worked in Livermore, Oregon, Washington and Canada, looking for a place to establish their school, before coming to Pacific Grove last year. This, they hoped, would be their final stop.
In their partnership, Roberts handles the business angle, while Badrak is the creative force. A five-year resident of the U.S., Badrak comes from the highly competitive Russian dance world, a world where children are selected at age 8 or 9 according to body type and musical ability, and spend the next 10 years utterly devoted to intense study of their chosen art form.
This is the world that produced Nureyev and Baryshnikov. It''s a world where the teacher reigns supreme, where children do as they''re told, and where the art form is king. No wonder Badrak finds it hard to deal with the American world of after-school dance classes, where kids show little respect, and parents tell him they just want their children "to have a good time." His attitude, he admits, has brought him into conflict with some parents.
"It''s frustrating," Badrak says. "If a student is tired, she sits and talks to her friend, even if I''m in the middle of explaining something. I can''t work the way I did in Russia. People come in, pay me money, and want me to teach them what they want. I''m paying $3,000 a month rent, so I can''t just tell them, ''I won''t teach your child.''"
Badrak himself studied in an elite Soviet ballet school from age 9 to 18, moving to character dance because his body type wasn''t suited to classical ballet. According to the Russian Dance Encycolpedia, after training as a choreographer, in 1982 he became artistic director of the ballet theater in Nizhny Novgorod, a large industrial city on the Volga River. In 1987 he was named assistant artistic director of the Bolshoi Theater, the umbrella group that includes the world-renowned Bolshoi Ballet, where he organized a separate dance company that toured widely.
From the time he came to the U.S. in March ''93, his fortunes took a turn for the worse, beginning with an alleged case of mistaken identity.
Dorothy Perceval, a former Carmel resident who has been teaching dance for 52 years, and now owns the Bolshoi West Academy of Dance in Stockton, went to Russia in early 1992 to look for a dancer to bring to the U.S. with the eventual goal of taking over her studio. She says that a dance agent took her to the Bolshoi Theater, where she watched a striking, tall young blond man teach a class. "He was magnificent," she says. She thought his name was Alexei Badrak.
While at the school, she also sat and spoke with "a small, dapper man," but she says she didn''t see this man dance.
It took almost nine months to clear the documents for Badrak''s arrival in the U.S. When Perceval went to pick him up at San Francisco International Airport in March ''93, she says she was shocked to see the small, dapper man get off the plane, rather than the tall young blond she was expecting. "I think the agent pulled a switcheroo," she says. "But it was my mistake, so I decided to honor the contract."
As the months passed, Perceval and Badrak clashed repeatedly over dance technique and other matters. On Sept. 22, 1993, Perceval fired him, claiming he was soliciting teaching jobs with her competitors. In a letter dated that day, she agreed to pay him through Nov. 30, the final day of his one-year contract as signed between Badrak''s agent and Perceval in October, 1992.
On April 13, 1994, Badrak sued Perceval for $5,000, which he claimed she owed him for the remainder of his contract. The judge ruled in Perceval''s favor.
"She''s a liar," claims Roberts, who says Perceval knew exactly which dancer she was sponsoring, because she stayed in Badrak''s apartment while in Moscow. Furthermore, Roberts says, Badrak sued her because she did not pay him what she owed him in the contract, which Roberts says ran from March ''93 to March ''94. Why didn''t Badrak appeal, if he was in the right? "He didn''t have the means to," Roberts says. She attributes Perceval''s firing him to "jealousy" and "exploitation," and says that although she was a longtime friend of Perceval''s, she sprang to Badrak''s defense because she "couldn''t stand by and see this happen to a man of his caliber."
Another dance teacher in Stockton, Elaine Dart, says she taught with Badrak at the Center Stage Dance Studio in Stockton soon after he left Perceval''s employ. He taught there from about January to June, 1994, Dart says. She says people there also questioned his credentials, "but I have no way of knowing the truth."
"I thought he was a very creative man, from the choreography that I saw," she says. She adds, however, that "there were performances promised, that never happened."
Now, Roberts says Badrak "wants to put the whole thing behind him." It''s all part of the negativity and jealousy that has hounded him since his arrival in this country, she says. "It''s a big problem in America, particularly in ballet," she says. "The Russian training is at such a different level. There''s tremendous jealousy."
Despite their money woes, the International Ballet Academy is forging ahead with its plans for the fall season, and a projected international academy for arts training, where children would receive training in a wide range of performing and fine arts, according to the Russian interdisciplinary model.
"This can be an area known for high-quality arts training," Roberts says confidently. "We are combining the best of the Russian system with the best of American innovation." cw
Vivien Half-price preview Friday at 7:30pm, opens Saturday 7:30pm. Drama. MaryAnn Schaupp-Rousseau portrays glamorous British-born actress Vivien Leigh, wife to Laurence Olivier and most famous for her role as Scarlett in Gone With The Wind, in a one-woman show that leads off this year''s Pacific Repertory Theater''s Solo Series. We meet up with Leigh in 1967, as she reflects on her career and reminisces about Olivier, Peter Finch, Noel Coward, Rex Harrison, Orson Welles and Clark Gable. Schaupp is directed by Lamont Johnson. Circle Theater, downstairs, Golden Bough, Casanova Street between 8th and 9th avenues, Carmel. 622-0100. $15/general; $10/children; $10/seniors. Through: 10/11.
You Never Can Tell Friday and Saturday, 8pm; Sunday, 2pm. Comedy. One of the lesser known works of Anglo-Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, known for his witty commentaries on turn-of-the-century British society, this is also one of his earliest plays. It is by turns farcical, by turns serious, and was written in response to Oscar Wilde''s The Importance of Being Earnest, which Shaw considered too frivolous. We meet Mrs. Clandon (Annie Shaw), a self-proclaimed "modern" woman, who ran away from straight-laced Victorian England with her three children, and now has returned with them 18 years later. Understandably, they want to know who their real father is. That quest is the basis for the comedy that ensues, as various pretenders to the title of "daddy" come into their lives, sometimes in quite unexpected ways. Studio Theater, Western Stage at Hartnell College, 156 Homestead Ave., Salinas. 755-6816/375-2111. $15/general; $13/students and seniors; $12/Hartnell students. Through: 9/5.
Friday & Saturday, 8pm. Musical Revue. The Western Stage Cabaret turns into the Grand Ole Opry for a musical tribute to country singer Patsy Cline, who died tragically in a plane crash in 1963. Told through the eyes of her longtime pen-pal Louise Seger, this show features a live band and more than 20 of Cline''s greatest hits, including "I Fall to Pieces" and "Crazy." Western Stage Cabaret Theater, in the Salinas Women''s Club, 215 Lincoln Ave., Salinas. 755-6816/375-2111. $18/general; $10/children; $16/seniors. Through: 8/2.
The Drunkard Friday & Saturday, 8pm. Melodrama. Classic melodrama about the evils of drink. California''s First Theater, Scott and Pacific streets, Monterey. 375-4916. Through: 8/1.
The Fantastiks Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 8pm. Musical. There has to be some reason this was the longest running show in the history of American Broadway theater. The Forest Theater, Mountain View Avenue and Santa Rita Street, Carmel. 626-1681. $15/general; $10/seniors. Through: 8/2
Guy Things Friday and Saturday, 8pm; Sunday, 7pm. Comedy. Penned by local playwright Rob Foster, this adult comedy features the adventures of three bachelors, losers all, as they navigate their way through dating in the ''90s. Guy Things made its successful debut last fall, and is now directed in a somewhat revised version by Cynthia Womack. As a work in process, the play shows promise: There are very entertaining moments buried in the play''s nearly three-hour length. Not recommended for children due to language and adult situations (and length). Unicorn Theater, Hoffman Street at Lighthouse Avenue, Monterey. 649-0259. $15/general; $/children; $12/seniors. Through: 8/9.
Peter Pan Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 8:30pm; Sunday, 8pm. Musical. Gina Welch-Hagen directs the Broadway musical version of James Barrie''s children''s classic about three Victorian children''s midnight flight to Never-Never-Land, a place where kids don''t have to grow up. The Bruce Ariss Wharf Theater, Old Fisherman''s Wharf, Monterey. 649-2332/372-1373. $15/general; $8/children. Through: 8/23.